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Tomato Sauce Substitute


You’re reaching for a can of tomato sauce for your delicious pasta dinner, and there’s nothing there. So, what do you do when you’re preparing a recipe, and the tomato sauce is missing? Here’s a tomato sauce substitute list that you can incorporate to get back to cooking that meal ASAP.

bowl filled with bright red sauce and open can labeled tomato sauce

What is tomato sauce?

Tomato sauce is most often found in the stores in a can. It is a thick, decadent, slightly sweet sauce created from tomatoes that have been sliced or pureed and then cooked. This makes the base for many sauces and dishes. If you’ve ever had homemade marinara before, the chances are that a can of tomato sauce was used as one of the first ingredients.

Depending on the source, some believe tomato sauce includes only herbs and seasonings. In France, tomato sauce originated from one of the Mother Sauces (Sauce Tomat). In this case, the sauce is started by using tomato paste or puree, then adding in pork, salt/pepper, sugar, and a roux. Then it is simmered for hours.

Tomatoes do have some nutritional benefits, including lycopene. Despite the debate – tomatoes are indeed classified as a fruit and not a vegetable. This fruit is typically used in savory dishes, which is a large reason for the fruit vs. vegetable debate.

top NINE Tomato Sauce Alternatives

1. Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is most commonly used to substitute for tomato sauce, as many tomato sauce recipes include tomato paste. This paste is a concentrated version of tomato sauce. To use tomato paste, you can add water to it. Then, add your seasonings until you reach the desired flavor.

Pros
Once the paste has been combined with water, you can use it in any recipe that you would normally use tomato sauce. This is a great base for curries and soups. You’ll have a nearly identical tomato flavor as if you purchased a can of tomato sauce from the grocery store.

Cons
It will require a few steps to get the tomato paste to a similar consistency as tomato sauce.

Cooking Tip:
Use this 1:1 ratio swap for tomato sauce (once you have mixed in the water and seasoning).

2. Canned Tomatoes

Canned tomatoes also make a suitable alternative for tomato sauce, though they require a few extra steps to get it to a similar tomato sauce consistency. Included in this category are stewed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and crushed tomatoes. This is a few additional steps than for tomato paste. Since canned tomatoes and canned tomato sauce include the same main ingredient (tomatoes), they will provide a similar flavor in dishes.
To transform canned tomatoes into tomato sauce, you’ll want to drain the liquid and blend your tomatoes. You may need to drain the blended tomatoes more or cook them in a pan for a few minutes to get the consistency correct. Then, add your seasonings to taste.

Pros
The final product will also be nearly identical to tomato sauce. You can use this like tomato sauce in any dish, including pasta sauce recipes.

Cons
Using canned tomatoes also requires a few steps to change it to taste and consistency, similar to tomato sauce. You may notice the consistency to be slightly more liquid than tomato sauce; if this does not suit your recipe – opt for tomato puree (using the modifications) above.

Cooking Tip:
Use your blended tomatoes in a 1:1 ratio as a swap for tomato sauce.

3. Marinara Sauce

The marinara sauce will work well with any Italian-style dishes you create. It has many Italian herbs mixed in, like basil, oregano, and garlic, and is thinner than tomato sauce.

Pros
You won’t need to alter marinara sauce before using it in a recipe since it is already seasoned. You can use marinara sauce for pizza, chili, and soups. Marinara sauce is often on hand in many people’s homes, so it is very accessible.

Cons
Marinara sauce already has seasonings incorporated into it that are meant to be paired with Italian-style food. This will limit the recipes you can use this substitute in. It also has more of a liquid consistency than tomato sauce. Marinara is also less sweet than tomato sauce. You’ll find the taste to be different in recipes as well.

Cooking Tip:
Use the marinara sauce in a 1:1 ratio as a sub for tomato sauce.

4. Passata

It is easy to substitute tomato sauce with tomato passata. For those who aren’t familiar with this food item, it consists of tomatoes that have been pureed and then run through a filter, so no chunks or seeds remain. It provides a similar thick consistency to what you would find in a tomato sauce.
However, there are no added seasonings to passata. It only consists of tomatoes and occasionally salt. You will need to add some spices and herbs to flavor this alternative before including it in a recipe.
This item is more commonly found in Italian kitchens or those who are well-versed in Italian cooking. This does not mean it cannot be found easily – some big retailers carry passata. It can also be ordered online if you have enough lead time.
Pros
Passata has a similar thick consistency, so it’s an excellent swap for thick soups and sauces that you normally use tomato sauce for. Starting with an unseasoned sauce can have its benefits – you’ll be able to season it for more recipes making it more versatile than an already seasoned alternative.

Cons
As noted above, tomato passata does not have any seasoning. While this does create more recipe possibilities, it also adds a few steps in the process for including it in recipes.

Cooking Tip:
Use tomato passata in a 1:1 ratio.

5. Ketchup

Ketchup is an unexpected option that can work well in certain recipes. It is a good tomato sauce alternative since both have a tomato base, so you can expect the flavor to be the same in that regard. It also has a few spices in common with tomato sauce, like onion powder.

Ketchup does have a much sweeter and tangier taste due to the ingredients included. It is best to avoid using ketchup for recipes that include a lot of tomato sauce like pasta dishes. If you’re concerned about the sugar content in ketchup, you can use one of the other alternatives instead.

Pros
It provides flavor and sweetness to dishes where small amounts are used for flavoring, like meatloaf.

Cons
It can not be used as a substitute for pizza or recipes in which tomato sauce is the star ingredient. Ketchup will also change the flavor of the dish that it is added to.

Cooking Tip:
Use ketchup in a 1:1 ratio as a substitution.

6. BBQ sauce

BBQ sauce is sweet and tangy and often created with tomato sauce or ketchup in it. Use this swap to replace tomato sauce on pizzas and as a marinade or sauce for meat. It does not work well in most dishes, as it has seasonings already in it.

While limited in its uses, BBQ sauce can be a good alternative for spicing up dishes. You’ll want to either adjust or leave out additional flavoring when using this substitution. As you might expect, the flavor will be much different when using BBQ sauce.

Pros
BBQ sauce has seasoning already in it, which allows you to skip steps and additional ingredients. It provides sweetness and bold flavor to any dish. This sauce works well to spice up pizza in an unexpected way.

Cons
This sauce substitution is very limited in its uses. It’s not recommended to use this swap with pasta or fish as it can be overpowering. BBQ sauce is not a good substitute as a sauce base as it already has a specific flavor.

Cooking Tip:
Use in a 1:1 ratio but adjust the other seasonings that the recipe calls for.

7. Fresh Tomatoes

If you’re growing tomatoes in your garden or have an abundance of tomatoes in your kitchen, feel free to use these as a replacement for tomato sauce. You’ll need to add a few steps to the recipe, including seasoning, peeling, and cooking the tomatoes down.

However, this will allow you to spice the tomatoes as needed. You’ll have a fresher and stronger tomato flavor using this method. Another option is keeping the tomatoes in more significant pieces instead of blending, which can work well with pasta, pizza, or fish/poultry dishes.

Pros
The tomato flavor will be apparent in your dishes. As fresh tomatoes have not been processed, you can adjust the consistency or size of tomato pieces as desired to fit your preferences. Seasoning can also be done according to your tastes. Once prepared, you can use your fresh tomatoes in place of any recipe that calls for tomato sauce.

Cons
This option will require much more work, from peeling the tomatoes to blending, seasoning, and cooking them to the right consistency. It is a much more time-consuming option than using crushed tomatoes or another substitution.

Cooking Tip:
If you boil and blend the tomatoes into a tomato sauce, you can use a 1:1 ratio.

8. Tomato Juice

Tomato juice is an option that not many would suspect. You’ll likely have a bottle or two already in your pantry, making it easy to use this replacement. Expect a tomato flavor, though you’ll need to add additional seasoning such as garlic and basil to make the taste more similar to tomato sauce.

The main difference you’ll notice with tomato juice is the consistency – it’s much runnier than tomato sauce. This thin liquid can be remedied by simmering the liquid until it reaches the desired thickness. Once the tomato juice thickens, it can be used in any tomato sauce recipe.

Pros
The flavor is very similar, as most tomato juices include salt, pepper, and onion. Tomato juice can easily be swapped with any tomato sauce recipe once it has thickened. You can also use tomato juice as-is and leave out any other liquid required by the recipe.

Cons
Tomato juice is much runnier and will likely need to be altered, adding time to the recipe. Additional seasoning is required, even if using tomato juice as-is.

Cooking Tip:
Use in a 1:1 ratio once thickened. Or, use 1 cup of tomato juice to replace ½ cup of tomato sauce and ½ cup of required liquid.

9. Tomato Soup

Using tomato soup instead of tomato sauce is another excellent option. Like tomato juice, most people have a can of tomato soup already in their kitchen, making it very easy to use this swap. Of course, since tomato soup has a main ingredient of tomatoes, you’ll have a similar tomato flavor.

Tomato soup and tomato sauce are prepared differently using different seasonings, which will cause recipes to taste different. While the tomato sauce is typically flavored with herbs and vegetables, tomato soup is only lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and can be combined with a dairy element.

Pros
Tomato soup is easy for most to find as most people already have a can in their pantry. This soup works well as a soup base or sauce base. It also contains mild seasoning, allowing you to adjust the flavor as needed.

Cons
Some tomato soup cans include additional seasoning, which may not mesh well with the intended recipe. Also, tomato soup often contains dairy making it tricky for those with a dairy sensitivity to use this as a swap.

Cooking Tip:
Use one can of tomato soup + ¼ cup of water for every cup of tomato sauce.

FAQs

Can you use tomato paste instead of tomato sauce?

Yes, you can substitute tomato paste for tomato sauce. Once you add water and seasonings, it will have a similar consistency and flavor as tomato sauce. See the above notes for more details.

Can you substitute tomato soup for tomato sauce?

Yes, you can substitute tomato soup for tomato sauce. Tomato soup is similar to a slightly condensed version of tomato sauce. You can use one can of tomato soup diluted with ¼ cup of water to replace tomato soup – use in a 1:1 ratio.

How to make tomato sauce from tomato paste?

It is easy to make tomato sauce from tomato paste. You will need to mix ½ cup tomato paste and ½ cup water. Once combined, add seasonings to your desired taste, and you’re ready to use your own tomato sauce.

What is the difference between crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce?

Crushed tomatoes typically do not have any seasoning or are seasoned very lightly with salt and garlic. These canned tomatoes are often very lightly cooked. On the other hand, tomato sauce has more seasoning and is cooked for longer, making the tomato flavor more subtle.

Summary

If you’re out of tomato sauce in the middle of a recipe, grab one of the above alternatives for an easy swap. Passata will be your best bet as it has the closest consistency, and the only doctoring it needs is seasoning.

Canned tomatoes and tomato paste tie for second-best options as they require a few more steps before they can be incorporated into recipes.

Recipes With Tomato Sauce

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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